DVD Review: Looking For Johnny
Johnny Thunders’ death on 23rd April 1991 in New Orleans was shrouded in mystery for a number of reasons. For many he was an enigmatic hero – a true rock ‘n’ roll icon. With hordes of devoted fans (including many musicians), he refused to play by the rules. This both cemented his legendary status, as well as contributing to his untimely downfall.
Danny Garcia’s documentary Looking For Johnny is the end product of 18 months of interviews with those closest to Johnny. The film examines Thunders’ life as a whole, from the early days as a founding member of the New York Dolls and his time with the Heartbreakers, to his long-running battle with drug addiction and the circumstances surrounding his death at the age of just 38.
Despite a limited budget, Garcia has succeeded in putting together an interesting, well-rounded journey through Thunders’ life. While prior knowledge of Thunders’ music may be useful, it is by no means a pre-requisite to enjoying this film. The story of each period of his life is told through interviews with the likes of New York Dolls’ Sylvain Sylvain, Heartbreakers bandmates Walter Lure and the late Billy Rath, as well as Lenny Kaye, Bob Gruen, Terry Chimes, Alan Vega, Peter Perrett and Sami Yaffa. Alongside these interviews is a mixture of archive footage and music taken from all periods of his career.
The soundtrack is excellent. Presumably in part to get around costly fees, Garcia has chosen to primarily use live performances, but this is not such a compromise as it may first seem when you consider how explosively brilliant Thunders was on stage.
Looking For Johnny succeeds at telling the story of a prodigious talent who was loved by many, but understood by few. Insightful and interesting without ever becoming inaccessible, this film is a must see for anyone with even a passing interest in one of the icons of punk rock.